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Biochemistry. 2001 Feb 6;40(5):1473-82.

Sedimentation studies reveal a direct role of phosphorylation in Smad3:Smad4 homo- and hetero-trimerization.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, Mississippi 39216, USA.


SMAD proteins are known to oligomerize and hetero-associate during their activation and translocation to the nucleus for transcriptional control. Analytical ultracentrifuge studies on Smad3 and Smad4 protein constructs are presented to clarify the model of homo- and hetero-oligomerization and the role of phosphorylation in the activation process. These constructs all exhibit a tendency to form disulfide cross-linked aggregates, primarily dimers, and a strong reducing agent, TCEP, was found to be required to determine the best estimates for reversible association models and equilibrium constants. A Smad4 construct, S4AF, consisting of the middle linker (L) domain and the C-terminal (C) domain, is shown to be a monomer, while a Smad3 construct, S3LC, consisting of the LC domains, is shown to form a trimer with an affinity K(3) = (1.2-3.1) x 10(9) M(-2). A Smad3 construct that mimics phosphorylation at the C-terminal target sequence, S3LC(3E), has 17--35-fold enhanced ability to form trimer over that of the wild-type construct, S3LC. S4AF associates with either S3LC or S3LC(3E) to form a hetero-trimer. In each case, the hetero-trimer is favored over the formation of the homo-trimer. Despite high sequence homology between Smad3 and Smad4, a chimeric Smad4 construct with an engineered Smad3 C-terminal pseudo-phosphorylation sequence, S4AF(3E), shows no tendency to form trimer. This suggests a Smad4-specific sequence insert inhibits homo-trimer formation, or other domains or sequences in S3LC are required in addition to the target sequence to mediate the formation of trimer. These results represent a direct molecular measure of the importance of hetero-trimerization and phosphorylation in the TGF-beta-activated Smad protein signal transduction process.

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